The Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) has long been heralded as one of the region’s premier festivals. In fact, it is the region’s only festival accredited by the , the same body that accredits Cannes, Berlin, and Venice. It is no secret, however, that over the years it has lost some of its former glory and with the likes of the Abu Dhabi, Marrakech and Tel Aviv film festivals hovering in the wings, it has become increasingly difficult to offer the same quality as these internationally acclaimed festivals.
It was cancelled last year due to budget limitations and political instability. This year, however, the festival is back and is trying to desperately hang on to its prestigious status. Besides this, the matter of holding the festival itself has become a necessity. The Ministry of Culture allegedly said that the CIFF risks losing its international accreditation if it fails to be held two years in a row.
After last year’s festival was cancelled, the former Minister of Culture, Emad Abu Ghazi, commissioned a civil entity, the Cairo International Film Festival Organisation, to organise the 2012 edition of the CIFF. After this commission had been hard at work for close to a year, Mamdouh El-Laithy filed a law suit against the Ministry of Culture to try and claim the organisation of CIFF 2012.
El-Laithy’s organisation, the Association of Cinema Writers and Critics, had previously organised the CIFF on two occasions before the ministry took it away from them. When it became common knowledge that the task of staging CIFF 2012 was given to someone else, El-Laithy’s association filed a lawsuit in an attempt to reclaim it. The judicial ruling went against El-Laithy but the judge declared that there had not been enough media transparency given to the selection process when the entity was picked to organise the CIFF. As a result, all interested parties had to re-apply for the position and the Cairo International Film Festival Organisation was again confirmed as the organising body.
However, instead of getting back to work, the Cairo International Film Festival Organisation only found the festival being taken away from them yet again. The Ministry of Culture, by then headed by the current minister, cited the judicial ruling as cause for possible future troubles that should be avoided and took back the organisation of the festival.
The decision has many worried, such as film director Hala Khalil, who is a member of Cairo International Film Festival Organisation along with many other notables of the industry. Khalil said that the Ministry is trying to find excuses to take the festival away from the organisation that was founded only to stage it. “The initial problem was that there was no clear, tangible entity organising the festival when the Ministry of Culture was organising it. This is why the previous Minister of Culture gave the CIFF 2012 to an organisation made specifically to organise it.”
Khalil said that the possibility of the festival losing its accreditation if it is not held this year was not set in stone, as the Ministry would have some believe. “The FIAPF has not specified that this will happen though obviously it would not be good if the festival was not held two years in a row. But why would it not be held? We have permission from the FIAPF to hold it. The only reason why it would not happen is because the Ministry is in the way. This is a clear case of the minister creating the problem and then using it as an excuse to bring the organisation back under the his wing.”
With the future of the country in the hands of the more conservative political forces, many people in the world of Egyptian cinema are concerned that the Ministry has taken control of the CIFF 2012, and they are wondering how political affiliations and beliefs may affect the CIFF 2012. “In previoius years CIFF did not accept movies from Iran to be part of the festival, yet after President’s Morsy’s visit and the change in foreign policy these films are now welcome,” Khalil said.
While the debate about CIFF 2012 rages on, another one, this time around the world, has some cinephiles outraged. This latter debate concerns the accreditation criteria of the FIAPF, which critics say places prestigious festivals like Venice and Cannes on par with those in Shanghai and Cairo, while bigger cinematic events are being left out.
In any case, the festival in Cairo will go ahead as planned but there is no telling what the impact will be of the CIFF being back in the hands of the Ministry of Culture instead of civil organisations. This will subject it to the minister’s whim, depending on who is in power, said Khalil. “This is why it is important to ask ourselves, as the answer is not wholly clear, why the Ministry wants the organisation of the CIFF so much.”